Long after he’d grown inured to the rotting flesh atop him, when the daylight crawled back out of the gray hole it had been cowering in, the dogs came. The wolves had been at the heaps all night but they had taken big snarling bites. The morning dogs dragged the corpses away. He waited – the blood of men dry and crackling on his skin, one eye swollen shut from the blow he’d taken from an ax haft, one hand broken, other hand pinned under a fat berserker – for the bodies to go into the woods, become the gnawed vestiges of bones.
No man would burn today. Had he the strength to burn the men he considered brave, he lacked the inclination. He wanted out from the dogged pile, wanted to find a midwife or bone man to fix his hand, and then he wanted to get drunk. Olaf decided to stay drunk for a long time, at least as long as he’d laid on this stinking battlefield. Yes, that would be a good start.
The dogs were fighting over a body above him and Olaf growled at them, but they did not resume their scavenging.
“Gods!” he cursed aloud. “See to it that Olaf, son of Erik son of Cuthbert, is freed from this pile of offal! I have need of strong drink, fat women. I have done with this battlefield!”
His prayer did not stir Odin from his seat in hallowed Asgard, nor did it stir one-handed Tyr. Olaf cried aloud again, the same prayer. Thor did not part the skies and part the bodies, Loki did not come in the guise of a nimble fox. Rather, his bloody prayer frightened off the dogs. He roared for the battle slinkers to return, in the name of Hell, Kvasir’s blood, the Jotun’s frozen scrotums, but they heeded him not. The ravens were undisturbed and continued to peck and pull at the dead around him, but such meager mouths would not free him till the twilight of this awful age.
He uttered his prayer again, and again, to the gods. The gray sun moved like a spider weaving in the sky and at last he aimed his hoarse prayer at other gods as might listen.
The air snapped like a brittle log set aflame. The wind blew the charred smell betwixt his bloody nostrils. He felt a great weight press upon the Earth and heard a voice as arose from a dozen metal flutes: “Have done with this battlefield, son of Erik son of Cuthbert? Or battle evermore?”
Even beneath the weight of the dead Olaf’s hackles rose in rolling rage. “Begone, monster! I call upon gods, not dead abominations!”
The bodies pressed down on his thick shoulders under the weight of a mighty hand, or tentacle. “These are dead, doubtless, Erikson, but I am very much of the living, and still abominable.”
The bloody mud beneath him began to bubble up his chest and chin. “Have your revenge and have done with me, then!” Olaf spat back.
“But I am here to answer your prayer.”
“Aye, at what price, beast? A seat at the head of your stomach?”
“Such a crude revenge,” sang the metal voices. “No, sport I prefer, for one so stone headed as you. If I grant you your prayer – freedom, mead, and sweetmeat – I’d prefer to wager.”
“Wager?” said Olaf.
“Aye, that you will return to battle before the birds fly south again.”
“Ha!” Olaf wriggled in the mud and the blood. “Olaf Erikson flees from no foe! I battle my way to an alehouse should the need prove needful!”
“Certainly,” said the monster. Olaf caught glimpses of its shimmering flesh in the sun pierced wounds of the slain. “But only for a season does the wager stand. One season of peace in return for freeing you from this mound of decay. I can promise you no friendlier entity will happen along this barren land until you are quite uniform with its departed.”
Olaf grunted. “And what would be stake for this limited pacifism?”
The beast chuckled. It was a whirring, melodious ugliness. “To each man is admeasured a quantity of soul. A mere piece, enough to fit in a small leather wallet, is a fair price for so small a favor.”
“So be it!” growled Olaf. “Get these damned ditch fillers off me!”
In a flash and a whirling wind, Olaf was raised from the mass and hurried over the tundra. He found himself in a humid tavern, hand tended to by a crone, chalice in his other, and the crone’s young daughters playing instruments of no great consequence and with no great skill. It was no matter, for their thighs were thick and slick with sweat and they were, as the crone herself, without a stitch of garment.
“Ha!” cried Olaf. “Such favors as these and I could be at peace for two seasons!”
He noticed a fine leather wallet sitting on his naked belly, of a craftsmanship unknown in his land. He made to peer inside, but as he shifted he heard its contents jingle – and double in weight.
The Sporadic Saga of Olaf & the Monster
Wooden Ships and Iron Monsters – Concerning the first battle between viking and abomination
The Holler Out of Space – In which the Monster seeks Olaf across time and space
Bad Company – In which the Monster wins a bet